The History of the Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling that gives players the chance to win prizes by matching numbers, either by selecting them themselves or by having machines randomly spit out combinations. Although people spend a lot of money on tickets, it’s rare to actually hit the jackpot. Those who do, however, face huge tax implications and often end up bankrupt within a couple of years.

The word “lottery” is from the Middle Dutch Lotere, meaning “action of drawing lots,” and it first appeared in English in 1569. Its popularity coincided with a time of growing financial stress in American life, as wealth gaps widened and pensions eroded, income taxes rose, and health-care costs increased. It was also a time when the national promise that hard work and education would lead to financial security ceased to be true for most working families.

Cohen writes that state legislatures began to promote the lottery as a way of raising revenue without provoking an angry response from their constituents. While the idea that government should be in the business of promoting gambling is controversial, the fact is that the vast majority of states’ budgets rely on lottery proceeds.

Rich people do play the lottery (one of the largest jackpots ever paid out was a quarter billion dollars), but they buy far fewer tickets than the poor. In fact, the wealthy spend on average one percent of their annual incomes on the games; those earning less than thirty thousand dollars annually spend thirteen per cent.